State Brownfields Program Celebrates Milestone

Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 1:00 pm

A state environmental program that has helped create thousands of jobs and spurred more than $14 billion in economic growth has celebrated a big milestone. 

The North Carolina Brownfields Program this week celebrated the signing of its 400th agreement, which puts special conditions for developers to cleanup or mitigate contamination so a site can be safely redeveloped and put back into productive use.
On Dec. 14, Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, joined staff with the state Brownfields Program and developers in downtown Raleigh for a celebration of the 400th agreement. The celebration came at The Dillon, a mixed use development in Raleigh’s Warehouse District.

“We are celebrating the greatest urban recycling story of the 21st century,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality. “In the past, many environmentally impacted properties were abandoned and unused, as a blight on our urban landscapes. Without the state Brownfields Program, we would likely have 400 sites in North Carolina that would be unusable and sitting empty. Instead, we’ve been able to make these sites productive again.”

A brownfields site is an abandoned or idled property where the threat of environmental contamination has hindered its redevelopment. In a brownfields agreement, a prospective developer who did not contribute to the contamination agrees to meet all state requirements to cleanup or mitigate a property so it is safe for its proposed reuse. In exchange, the state agrees to limit the liability of the developer to the actions defined in the agreement. This allows the developer to approach a lender with a defined, instead of an open-ended, liability for environmental cleanup. 

North Carolina’s Brownfields Program was created by a law enacted by the General Assembly in 1997. In its 19-year history, the Brownfields Program has allowed developers to safely transform idled properties into sought-after condominiums, unique office space for tech companies and new manufacturing facilities, said Bruce Nicholson, the head of the state’s Brownfields Program.

The 400th agreement came about in Raleigh’s Warehouse District, an area in the Capital city’s downtown area once as a commercial and industrial hub starting in the late 19th century. The former Dillon Supply, a former steel-fabricating facility, will soon be converted into The Dillon, a unique mixed-use development with retail and office space, apartment homes and a parking deck.

The celebration on Dec. 14 showcased The Dillon, but since The Dillon is under construction, most of the event was actually held next door on West Street at the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh, which is also a Brownfields site.

“Thanks to the Brownfields program, we have achieved a cleaner environment and a more vibrant economy for many North Carolina communities,” said Michael Scott, director of the division that oversees the Brownfields Program. “We expect the buzz about the Brownfields Program to grow as more people learn about the program.”